‘It’s unfathomable’: Reopening of China’s wet markets bewilders Scott Morrison as PM doubles down on his criticism of the World Health Organisation

  • Australia’s Prime Minister repeated criticism of the World Health Organisation 
  • Scott Morrison said on Tuesday he found the WHO’s stance ‘unfathomable’ 
  • WHO said China ‘wet markets’, the suspected source of COVID-19, could reopen 
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stepped up his criticism of the World Health Organisation following its support for the reopening of China‘s ‘wet markets’ after one in Wuhan was widely identified as the source of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘It’s unfathomable, frankly,’ Mr Morrison told the Today show on Tuesday when asked about the WHO’s decision.

‘We need to protect the world against potential sources of these types of outbreaks. IT’s happened too many times,’ he said.

‘We don’t have them in Australia. I’m just puzzled by that decision.’

Australia's leaders have repeated criticism of the World Health Organisation after it supported reopening China's wet markets (pictured)

Australia’s leaders have repeated criticism of the World Health Organisation after it supported reopening China’s wet markets (pictured)

'We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of viruses. It's happened too many times,' Mr Morrison said

‘We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of viruses. It’s happened too many times,’ Mr Morrison said

Last week the United Nations health authority claimed the Chinese markets could be made to sell safe products with increased hygiene practices as they provided important sources of food and income.

The WHO has been under attack for its handling of the worldwide coronavirus crisis and has been accused of a pro-China bias.

Questions have been raised about its advice early in the crisis, most critically in allowing international travel from China to remain open, thus spreading the disease across the world.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom had praised China for its ‘transparency’ and handling of the outbreak after travelling to the country in January.

People wearing protective face masks shop at a chicken stall at a 'wet market' in Shanghai on February 13, 2020

People wearing protective face masks shop at a chicken stall at a ‘wet market’ in Shanghai on February 13, 2020

According to Johns Hopkins University at least 1,919,000 people have been infected and there have been at least 119,000 deaths from COVID-19 across the globe while at least 458,000 people have recovered.

In Australia, politicians from both sides of parliament have condemned the WHO’s stance and called for strict international regulations.

‘Australia and the world will be looking to organisations like the WHO to ensure lessons are learned from the devastating coronavirus outbreak,’ Mr Morrison said on Monday.

‘There must be transparency in understanding how it began in Wuhan and how it was transmitted. We also need to fully understand and protect against the global health threat posed by places like wet markets.’ Mr Morrison told The Australian.

The virus is understood to have originated from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.

The Chinese ‘wet markets’ are notorious for keeping wild animals in inhumane cages, with the animals then slaughtered at the market.

One theory is that the disease was transferred to humans from bats, or possibly through another animal such as a pangolin, which are highly trafficked.

Both sides of parliament have been critical of the WHO with Labor MP Peter Khalil saying ‘wet markets’ must be shut down unless they can be proven to be safe.

Signs for various beef, pork and poultry products are displayed at stalls as chest refrigerators stand at the Baishazhou wet market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, on Monday, April 6, 2020

Signs for various beef, pork and poultry products are displayed at stalls as chest refrigerators stand at the Baishazhou wet market in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, on Monday, April 6, 2020

‘Unless they can demonstrate that the regulations, the health and safety measures, are so strict that they can completely cut off the risk factors, they’re going to have to shut them down,’ he said.

‘It’s happened with SARS. It’s happened with avian influenza. It’s happened with COVID-19. Next time it might be an even worse virus.’

The SARS virus, which is very similar to COVID-19, is understood to have also originated in China, however, the virus was contained in 2003 with a comparatively small infection rate.

People wearing face masks in a wet market as residents in Mei Foo district in China on February 2 2020

People wearing face masks in a wet market as residents in Mei Foo district in China on February 2 2020

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing on Jan. 28, 2020, ahead of their meeting to discuss how to curb the spread of a new pneumonia-causing coronavirus

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in Beijing on Jan. 28, 2020, ahead of their meeting to discuss how to curb the spread of a new pneumonia-causing coronavirus

Liberal MP Andrew Hastie previoulsy told Daily Mail Australia the WHO had not been proactive enough in acting to stop the global health threat.

He said organisations like the WHO need to act quickly to ensure an outbreak like this does not happen again.

‘The WHO has been glacially slow in its decision-making,’ Mr Hastie said.

‘When Beijing shut down travel from Hubei to the rest of China on January 23 – but strangely not from Hubei to the rest of the world – why didn’t the WHO act decisively then?

‘It could’ve prevented the mass global exportation of COVID-19 then by declaring a pandemic and alerting governments around the world of the danger ahead.

‘Closing borders then could’ve saved lives and a lot of economic hardship.’

Why is the WHO director-general ‘sympathetic’ to China?

At the end of Janaury, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom enjoyed a trip to China to rub shoulders with President Xi Jinping.

When he returned, he hailed China for ‘transparency’ – even though it had covered up the extent of the outbreak by detaining doctors who sought to alert citizens.

Australian professor John Mackenzie, a member of the World Health Organization’s emergency committee, called China ‘reprehensible’ – but Dr Adhanom said China should be ‘congratulated’ for protecting ‘the people of the world’.

He then fawned over the communist leader, telling aides he was ‘very impressed and encouraged by the president’s detailed knowledge of the outbreak.’

Since then, Tedros Adhanom has been called a ‘China apologist’ by various commentators.

Kristine Lee, China analyst at an influential US think-tank said: ‘There is a clear narrative coming out of the WHO that panders to Xi Jinping’s view about his country’s handling of coronavirus.’

But why? Perhaps it goes back to his time as a top Ethiopian politician, wrote journalist Ian Birrell.

He served in senior roles under Meles Zenawi, who ran a brutal dictatorship with close ties to Beijing, which admired the regime’s authoritarian model of development.

Intriguingly, Tedros was accused of covering up three outbreaks of cholera during his seven years as health minister, although the claims were dismissed as dirty tactics to try to derail his bid to become the WHO boss.

Shortly after starting his new job with the WHO in 2017, he appointed Robert Mugabe as a ‘goodwill ambassador’, only to back down after furious protests from human rights groups pointing out the despot had devastated Zimbabwe’s health service while wrecking his nation.

Mugabe, as head of the African Union and a close ally of China, had helped him win the WHO post. Beijing also used its financial muscle to build support among developing nations, with Xi said to see the achievement as a sign of China’s growing strength.

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